Coral reefs are one of the most impressive life forms due to their unique beauty. But these colorful expanses of fractal geometries and exotic animals dependent on them are incredibly delicate. Water pollution, global warming, and the industrialization of the coasts are extinguishing these organisms. However, experts still have hope, as they have found a way to protect corals from the diseases that plague them.
The science and other stuff to know
The damage to which coral reefs are currently subjected is multiple. Being in warm and shallow waters, they are susceptible to deterioration caused by human activities such as fishing, transportation, tourism, and coastal resource extraction in general.
In addition, due to their enormous attractiveness, humans prey on corals. They remove their parts as if biodiversity and ecosystems could be reduced to souvenirs.
The global increase in temperature leads to a deficit in corals’ structure that predisposes them to a continuous weakening. In addition, ocean acidification due to the residual emissions from the burning of fossil fuels modifies the habitat’s delicate balance for coral reefs to thrive.
In addition to these environmental factors, the increasing presence of pathogens from cross-contamination leaves corals without protection against diseases. However, a team from the University of California, in collaboration with the University of Florida and the University of South Florida, recently published a study in Scientific Reports claiming that the mixture of coral species can provide a kind of herd immunity. They observed the corals that grow and develop together have similar immunity against the same pathogens, so mixing species could balance this group’s disadvantage, thus safeguarding reefs from infection.
Understanding how this collective protection arrangement works, thanks to the balance of genetic advantages, can help us better understand human dynamics. It’s similar to how vaccinations and strengthening the immune system of one part of the population protect the rest. We can also extrapolate the dynamics of the reefs to crops, among others.
In addition, this knowledge is key to finding effective preservation techniques for these wonderful and vulnerable ecosystems.
The researchers’ main concern is creating an environment for experimentation with corals to continue studying the benefits of this symbiosis. Anya Brown, the paper’s lead author, said in an official press release, “I hope people working with coral nurseries use this as a springboard to see how this influences the spread of disease,” and added, “Nurseries that intentionally arrange corals with mixtures of genotypes can help corals vulnerable to disease thrive. [It] can help build coral resilience by repopulating reefs with a diverse genetic mixture of corals.”